When Foy Vance began writing songs as a teenage boy growing up in a Bangor housing estate, he had few experiences of life to draw on.
Unlike the masters of the craft, Bob Dylan and Van Morrison – who were already penning classics at a young age – Vance felt that he had nothing of interest to say. It wasn’t until he suffered heart-break and watched loved ones pass away that his writing took on a certain maturity.
Since his debut album Hope in 2007, the now moustachioed troubadour has been singing about the sweet hurt of love and the juxtaposition between heartache and happiness. He’s released a few EPs since then, including the Melrose collaboration with Belfast composer and producer David Holmes, but his much anticipated second album has been a long time coming.
Much has happened in the interim to inspire Vance’s creative vision for new record Joy Of Nothing, particularly within the last year. A change in personal circumstances and a relocation from the bright lights of London to the tranquillity of the Scottish Highlands helped shape this beautiful collection of songs.
Once again the threads of lost love, gained love and hope in a hard place weave through the album. Vance's lyrics on the 10 tracks are searingly honest and optimistic in the face of various challenges.
Even when he’s singing about broken relationships – 'I tried to do what I thought was right, and I know I f**ked it up sometimes, but at least my heart was open' – he manages to make heartache sound like something that not only must be endured, but celebrated, too.
In the title track, 'Joy Of Nothing', he returns to the theme of hope – ‘Oh the joy of nothing is as sweet as something’ – a nod, perhaps, to his simpler, stripped-back approach to life since setting up home near Loch Tay.
Musically, the old blues style of midwest America that Vance was exposed to as a child is evident – Vance spent several years living in American, having relocated there for a time with his preacher father – while his vocal range soars from raw rockiness to soulful and tear-jerking.
Joy of Nothing features one or two notable guest appearances also. Grammy award-winning Bonnie Raitt provides backing vocals – yes, backing vocals – on 'You and I', while Vance’s touring buddy Ed Sheeran duets on the anthemic album closer, 'Guiding Light'.
It took Vance six years to release that notoriously difficult second album, but a masterpiece should never be rushed. And Joy of Nothing really is just that – a gorgeous collection of open, uplifting songs, which showcase the 38-year-old’s magnificent songwriting skills.
Stand-out tracks for me include the aforementioned 'Guiding Light' – surely one of the most beautiful songs to come out of these shores – 'Feel For Me' and 'Janey'. But in truth, you would be hard-pushed to find a weak link on the album.
During a recent chat with Gary Lightbody, the Snow Patrol front-man recommended that I get my hands on Joy Of Nothing double quick. 'It’s the best thing I’ve heard in a long time,' he enthused. 'Foy Vance is the best singer-songwriter Northern Ireland has produced. He’s amazing. His record is amazing. It’s beyond amazing. The man is a genius.'
Lightbody ran out of superlatives attempting to sum up Vance as an artist. He's not the only one. Joy of Nothing is, quite simply, a joy.
Joy of Nothing is available to download now. Download the Foy Vance track 'Black Horse' from Noise Trade.